I have been presented with an opportunity where I can choose to act on something that is unfair. It would have been an easier decision if the unfairness had affected me, but the stakes are raised by this being an injustice against M, my nine year old daughter. It is much harder not to intervene when she is the one paying the price.
M has been playing basketball this season. It was fun to watch the practices. Half the girls couldn’t get the ball in the hoop even when they had no opponent, but I loved watching them try. But then the matches began and the fun ended. The league is for 3rd and 4th graders, and M’s team happened to be almost all 3rd graders. The teams they played had almost all 4th graders, and tall 4th graders at that. M’s team only played one match all season on which the opposing team’s girls didn’t tower over M and her teammates.
This is probably where I should confess that most of the information on actual matches is based on my husband and daughters’ accounts, as well as conversations with coaches and other adults, because as a non-American, I had begged of getting very involved in this particular sport. I have learned to like baseball, but basketball and football remain incomprehensible to me. After a while, it also became too painful for me to try to watch matches, although I’d come for the end of a game once in a while because I wanted to be there for M.
Back to the towering opponenets: It could still have been OK if their coaches had held them back just a tad when they got way ahead, or if the referees had given the inexperienced “midget” team a break once in a while. But no. In the first match of the season, our girls were beaten 26 – 0. They felt not just beaten but humiliated, and most of them left in tears. But the thing that made me an avid hater of basketball was the roughness of the sport and the fact that all but one of the young men who refereed the matches rarely or never blew the whistle for a foul. The bigger and older girls were often quick to realize that they had a free pass, and our midgets frequently left the court with huge bruises and abrasions, but fortunately no major injuries.
The season was the stuff that movies are made of – our girls actually managed to win one match, and that was the final match of the season with a cliffhanger ending with a shot at the buzzer. As you can imagine, that victory was as sweet as sweet can be.
After reading this, dear reader, I hope you can understand why my blood is boiling. So why am I still unsure about writing a courteous letter to the League to suggest a few changes to the rules? Because this basketball season was also an illustration of what the resurrection is all about: new life grew out of the places of brokenness.
The girls’ spiritual growth this season was phenomenal, and I believe they will be better persons for it. The injustice they suffered was not really a big one in the grand scheme of things, and these girls have plenty of other successes in their lives. The girls all had involved adults in their lives to support them through the experience, so it never had the power to do real damage to their souls. Coach J and his assistant K were an important part of the girls’ growth.
Based on the conversations we had in our home, here’s the spiritual growth I think M and her team mates may have had: They understand that life isn’t always fair, and sometimes the best option available is to develop your own standards. The girls learned to define success as working hard, improving their team’s skills, making the opposing team work hard for every single point. They learned to redefine goals: Winning one quarter of play became a victory, even if they lost in the final score. Reducing the other team’s margin became the measure of progress. Their progress was steady: from losing 26-0 they progressively whittled down on the opposing team’s margin until they actually won.
They learned something about compassion. I saw M start to think differently about herself. She became a little more aware of the areas in her own life where she might have an advantage over others. She started to think about how her advantages might come at the expense of others. She asked some questions about who she is and how she affects others in the school playground. She articulated a desire not to ever use her advantages in the way she had seen others do it in basketball. All of these concepts have of course been around for a while in our conversations, but M seemed to begin to apply them more in her own life.
I heard a brand new insight into ethics – a beginning understanding that just because you CAN do something doesn’t mean you SHOULD: there were numerous conversations about the fact that the teams that clobbered M’s never broke a single league rule.
I heard M and her teammates begin to understand the value of good rules, laws, and enforcement, and more acceptance even of the rules that may limit her own freedom.
Last, but not least, the members of M’s team bonded like no other team she has been on, and the parents bonded correspondingly. The end-of-season party went on and on and on, and some of the girls were crying when the party broke up. Everyone wanted to be on the same team with the same coach next year, but the girls wondered if that was the right thing to do. They didn’t want to be next season’s 4th grade bully team. They finally decided that they would bring in the two eligible younger sisters onto next year’s team (!) and that – if they ever got way ahead of another team, they would volunteer to hold back and let the better players spend more time on the bench.
Wow. So maybe this is not the time to show the girls how to stand up against unjust structures. But there may be a number of tall 4th grade girls who think that getting the ball in the hoop the most times is what it’s all about, and for their sake I should perhaps get some ideas from M and her team mates to pass on to the League. For M and her friends, their experience of powerlessness has done its work. Maybe it’s time to talk more with M about how God uses even bad things for good purposes, and that God is trustworthy and always at work. We may not see God and goodness while we’re struggling to breathe again after an elbow to the belly, but darkness and injustice cannot ultimately win. Love for each other and willingness to make sacrifices for one another will always win the ultimate victory.
Query for prayerful consideration:
When have I experienced resurrection – the ultimate victory of love and sacrifice – at work in my own life?